At Holy Mass today, we commemorate the North-American martyrs. They came to these shores from France, to teach the Hurons about Jesus Christ and His Church. The martyrs happily gave their lives to spread the Gospel. What motivated them?
For a short and precise answer, let’s think back three years. Anyone remember what happened three years ago today, in St. Peter’s Square?
Here’s a hint. It involved the last Italian pope. Or at least the last Italian pope who lived for longer than two months in office.
Side note: It is amazing to think that we have not had an Italian pope in over 39 years. Most of the people living on the earth right now have never had an Italian pope. Which is amazing. We have had 266 popes in total. 196 of them have been Italians. Our current pope is an Italian-American, but that’s not quite the same thing.
Anyway: three years ago today, Pope Francis declared Pope Paul VI to be among the saints. The last Italian pope to live for more than two months in office became Blessed Pope Paul VI.
Blessed Pope Paul wrote many, many beautiful and inspiring things. He possessed an utterly tireless mind, along with a beautifully humble heart.
But a few sentences he wrote capture the spirit of the North-American martyrs perfectly, in my humble little opinion. We Catholics don’t proselytize, if proselytizing means assuming that people who do not know and accept our doctrines have not hope at all. We do not believe that. We believe that God has a plan for everyone, and God’s plans extend way beyond what we little creatures can grasp in our wee minds.
Nonetheless, we consider the task of evangelization urgent. Blessed Pope Paul explains:
It would be useful if every Christian were to pray about the following thought: men can gain salvation also in other ways, by God’s mercy, even though we do not preach the Gospel to them.
But as for us, can we gain salvation if—through negligence, or fear, or shame –if we ‘blush for the Gospel’–or as a result of false ideas, we fail to preach it?
For that would be to betray the call of God, who wishes the seed to bear fruit through the voice of the ministers of the Gospel; and it will depend on us whether this seed grows.